There’s an old military saying that all you need to run a military operation is caffeine, nicotine, and kerosene.  But the term kerosene is just a figurative expression for fuel, so, not literally kerosene. The caffeine is from coffee and the nicotine is from cigarettes. It’s a humorous quip with a point about which goods are particularly in demand during the stress of the operation. But this prepping and survival post is about which goods would be in demand and in short supply during a disaster, and therefore would be good items for bartering.
Coffee, tea, and chocolate are common sources of caffeine in the diet.
The U.S. grows very little coffee domestically (all of it in Hawaii and Puerto Rico) and essentially no tea. Relatively few nations produce most of the coffee and tea consumed in the world. Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia top the list of coffee-growing nations. Sri Lanka, Kenya, China, and India are the top tea-growing nations. Any type of disaster that harms the international economy or affects commerce between nations could put coffee and/or in short supply.
Between coffee and tea, I suspect that coffee would be in greater demand. Coffee drinkers “need” their morning coffee, and sometimes their mid-morning, late-morning, and afternoon, mid-late-afternoon coffee fix. And even if a coffee drinker has a preferred brand, any type of coffee will do in a pinch. Tea drinkers are perhaps more discerning, and less attached to their drink. But in any case, coffee and tea are easy to store, keep well long-term, and make good bartering items. Each takes up little storage space, and should have relatively high value during a long-term disaster scenario.
I suggest storing plenty of caffeinated freeze-dried coffee. It doesn’t taste as good as fresh-ground, but it will keep indefinitely. Smaller containers are a little more expensive per ounce, but better for bartering. For tea, the best type for storing would have each bag packaged in an individual plastic or foil packet; this should help with long-term storage. Again, the decaf type might be in less demand during stressful times, so stick to the fully-caffeinated type.
Chocolate is in the same boat as coffee and tea in terms of world production. All of the cocoa beans in the world are grown in just a few nations. This makes chocolate more likely to jump in price during world economic crises or during any disaster that harms international commerce. However, chocolate, due to its fat content, does not store as well as coffee or tea. Fats of any kind can go rancid in long-term storage. If you have a chest freezer for storing meat, poultry, fish, and cheese long-term, you should consider storing some chocolate as well. Otherwise, date and rotate any stored chocolate or chocolate-based candy. Sugar based candy, with little or no fat content, will store very well without refrigeration.
Cigarettes and cigars are harmful to your health, so this next point is controversial. A pack of cigarettes or a few high-quality cigars might make good bartering items. These are small, lightweight items with a high bartering value. However, bartering cigarette or cigars to underage persons is illegal. As for bartering these items with adults, if your State taxes cigarettes, it might be illegal to barter this item because you are not collecting and paying the tax. Now I know that many prepping websites tout cigarettes as good barter items, but I’d suggest storing other items for bartering. If you smoke, quit or at least cut back, and keep any stored tobacco items for personal use only.
Kerosene, actually Fuel
As I said above, “kerosene” is just a figure for various types of fuel, or more generally, sources of power. Don’t store or barter kerosene. As for gasoline, it might be in short supply and high demand, but it is difficult and dangerous to store in large quantity. Not my pick for a storage or bartering item.
For post-SHTF cooking, you might want to store a propane tank or two for a gas grill. If there is a power outage lasting more than a few days, I would expect propane tanks to be in very high demand and very short supply. On the other hand, you might want to keep the few tanks you have for your own use. Otherwise, it makes for a very high value bartering item.
My top pick for a cooking fuel is isopropyl alcohol. It is safer to store than many other liquid fuels. An alcohol fire can be put out with water, whereas a gasoline, oil, or other hydrocarbon-based fuel fire absolutely CANNOT be put out with water; it will make the fire worse. There are many good and inexpensive alcohol cookstoves available for purchase online, or you can make your own with not too much difficulty or expense.
I prefer isopropyl alcohol over methyl and ethyl alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol does not burn as cleanly as methyl or ethyl alcohol. But isopropyl alcohol has more fuel energy per ounce than methyl or ethyl alcohol, and it is much safer than methyl alcohol.
Batteries are a source of “fuel” (power) and might be in demand during a long-term power outage. However, they are heavy, and after a long time, they can lose power and even leak acid. Also, batteries are an ubiquitous commodity, which might not be in too high a demand compared with other items. Not my top pick for a bartering item. Solar powered devices, such as a solar powered cell phone recharger, would be a much better item for storage and bartering.
Another common bartering items is firearms ammunition. We are already seeing high demand and short supply for guns and ammo. Any subsequent disaster, especially one that results in civil unrest, will only increase demand and outstrip supply further. The more common calibers are better for bartering, since it will be more likely that the person you are bartering with has a gun in that caliber: .22LR, 9mm, and .223 are perhaps the most common calibers.
Any type of food might be a good bartering item. I suggest that vegetable oil might be one of the better food bartering items. Many people neglect dietary fat when storing foods for prepping. Also, vegetable oil goes well with almost any cuisine, and is good for cooking comfort foods, such as fried foods or some of the higher fat dishes.
Candy and junk food stores well and might be in higher demand during stressful times. I generally try to eat healthy, but I don’t have a problem with the occasional junk food indulgence. An enjoyable meal or snack is a good stress-reducer. As long as you keep your less-healthy food intake to a minimum, you should be fine.